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Efforts To Meet Needs of 'At Risk' Youths in Ky. Assailed

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Calling Kentucky's schools "stagnant amid a sea of change,'' a new report criticizes the state's educational system for its inability to educate "at risk'' children.

The report, "Unsatisfactory Performance: A Report Card on Kentucky's School Reform Efforts for Children at Risk,'' says the state's reform measures have done little to improve the education of many poor and minority youths.

"Without dramatic organizational change, schools may continue to play a gate-keeping role, pushing white and economically advantaged children in one direction and poor and minority students in another,'' states the report, issued late last month by the citizens' group Kentucky Youth Advocates.

According to the report, Kentucky's school population is growing poorer and more diverse. Between 1979 and 1984, the report calculates, the number of children in poverty increased by more than 60,000.

At the same time, it states, the number of minority students increased. In 1980, according to the report, minority youths represented 9 percent of the state population under age 19. By the year 2020, that figure is expected to rise to nearly 15 percent.

The reform movement has made the division between the advantaged and the disadvantaged more pronounced, the report states. While the state raised the number of high-school credits needed to graduate in 1982, it did not provide more money to help at-risk students meet the higher standards, it says.

Primary Benefactors

As a result, according to the report, "the primary benefactors of Kentucky's 'education reform' measures thus far have been teachers and the children who already receive the best the education system has to offer.''

Poor children and minority students, in contrast, "were not given their fair share of the education-reform dollar,'' the advocacy group says.

The report states that less than one percent of the total education budget enacted in 1986 went to programs that specifically aided at risk children--$1.1 million for pilot dropout prevention programs and $1.2 million for pilot pre-school programs.

The report holds the "Big Four'' in public education--the governor; the superintendent of public instruction; the Kentucky General Assembly; and the Kentucky Education Association, the state's largest teachers' group--equally responsible for ignoring the needs of at-risk youths.

To rectify the situation, the report calls on educational policymakers to:

  • Recognize that inequality exists in Kentucky schools.
  • Create a "new vision'' for public education.
  • Develop a blueprint for change.
  • Finance reform efforts specifically directed at minority and disadvantaged youths.
  • Establish a system of accountability, which would include better data collection, a statewide system to monitor progress, and a penalty system for schools that fail to meet their obligations to at-risk youths.--E.F.

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